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In What Ways Does Aristotle Exhibit Ambivalence Toward Slavery And Why Does This Matter?

1840 words - 8 pages

In the times of Ancient Greece, there is an overall acceptance of slavery, where it is nearly uncontroversial to own a human. There are different forms of slavery during this time – chattel (bought and sold, movable) and serf-like (obliged to serve, immovable from the land). However, throughout Aristotle’s Politics, he merges the concept of humans, animals and tools while focusing on their functional forms more willingly than their physical forms to attempt a justification. Aristotle exhibits ambivalence toward slavery by equating humans with tools to justify human ownership and this matters because it indicates he believes slavery is not justifiable or natural. In other words, his ...view middle of the document...

For instance, human comprehension (not rationality) gives the ability to follow orders, the hands can operate the loom and the eyes can see as a lookout on a ship. The idea of artificial slaves becomes a justification through his strong focus on function, illustrating why human slaves are necessary. However, he does not mention human form or shape as a necessary requirement for slavery, but sees its abolition instead. “If the shuttle would weave and the plectrums touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants or masters’ slaves” (Aristotle). In a sense, he is objectifying the capacity for labor or work while disregarding the necessity of human form. “Suppose every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others…” (Book I, Part IV). There is a clear idea here showing how the self-initiating tool will make functionality more efficient. Fundamentally, he envisions the abolishment of the bothersome intermediary – the human slave.
Even with the perception of slaves as tools, he still believes there is a relationship between master and slave, but more associated with their master in a network – analogous to how organs relate to the body. “The slave is a part of the master, a living but separated part of his bodily frame” (Book I, Part VI). Because slave and master work toward the same “telos” (well being of the master), Aristotle sees them as one in the same. When thinking of his examples of the ship’s rudder or human lookout as types of tools, a revelation comes to mind: “In the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a living instrument” (Part IV). In perspective, the wheel is nothing but an artificial extension of the pilot’s arms, while the lookout man enhances his vision – mere prosthetics or amplifications of his body and senses. In turn, this implies there is little difference between lifeless and living or inanimate and animate.
The pilot’s lifeless and living tools collectively provide a comprehensive body-related network to better aid him in steering or managing his ship – an extension of himself. This implies the pilot’s human tools along with his inanimate tools merge into one large tool, with the master as its center node. This system or network empowers the master to manage his life or environment. All of this ties into the master and slave relationship, where it confirms Aristotle’s perception of the slave as the master’s “possession” or mere “tool for living” (Klosko, 2012). This also implies bodily forms are not significant to being a slave or servant, but the functions provided to the master’s body – functions that should shift to artificial forms if feasible. He is obviously implicating how the master can feel relaxed regarding his domination over another human through focusing on function and equating the slave to the tool. In other words, a tool is not living or human, so therefore the slave is not within his sphere of compassion....

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